Less water in the stream means less comes into large and critical impoundments such as Lake Powell, which Mueller said is already being “equalized” with Lake Mead. The latter is being drawn down by overuse, not just drought.
“They’ve been draining the savings account at Lake Mead for them (users), and, the way it works, they’ve also been draining Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “ … It isn’t the drought draining Lake Powell as much as it is the overuse and the lower supply of water going in.”
Colorado must be aware of that because of its requirements under the Colorado River Compact to deliver a set amount of water right below Glen Canyon Dam.
“There’s accounting that goes on. Every year, we know exactly how much water is delivered. At a point in time … we can see very clearly, we have a significant risk of not being able to deliver that water,” Mueller said. “When we can’t deliver that water, we will get a call, or a curtailment, coming up the river.”
He said it appeared as though most of those present Jan. 19 have pre-compact water, or senior rights, that are not obligated to be called out. Most municipalities have rights junior to the compact — but they also have the right of condemnation through an involuntarily “buy and dry” process.
“Those (municipal) fire hydrants and those faucets, my guess is, are going to get water in the time of curtailment. That’s the municipal preference in our state constitution,” Mueller said.
To-date, the state hasn’t actually had to determine how this consideration would be applied — in fact, mum’s the word at the state level, Mueller added.
“The reality is, many of the Front Range providers would have rights junior to the compact,” Mueller said. These providers divert about 650,000 acre-feet a year to the Front Range out of the Colorado River Basin, including, at times, the Upper Gunnison.
The Front Range is constantly on the lookout for additional supply, but that’s not the only thing to keep in mind, Mueller said. Front Range providers will continue to supply current municipal needs in that populous part of the state.
The question becomes: What happens in the event of a curtailment when municipalities have the right of condemnation?
“They have the right to come over and buy ag rights. They don’t even have to build a pump. They can just run the water down the stream into Lake Powell. They can dry up the agricultural — buy and dry involuntarily,” Mueller said.
Locals under the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association are not necessarily safe from condemnation just because the association is under a right held by the federal government, he said.
Although municipalities cannot condemn against federal property, it’s not certain whether the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would ultimately be comfortable with not delivering water to the lower basin, where the greater population provides a congressional delegation many times the size of the Western Slope’s, Mueller explained.
“The question really is, how do we prevent that from happening?” he said.
“We don’t have the answer yet, but we are studying a number of different mechanisms where we can use voluntary efforts by our agricultural producers on the Western Slope, combined with voluntary efforts of ag users who depend on transmountain diversions on the Eastern Slope; industrial providers on the East Slope, and municipal providers on the East and West Slope, to voluntarily curtail their uses ahead of time and bank that water somewhere and then be able to prevent a curtailment from ever occurring.”
These, Mueller explained, are “thoughts,” not absolutes.
From the Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK via The Fence Post:
The collective water use of the upper basin states is still well below the 7.5 M acre-feet annual average depletion maximum. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reports indicate that the upper basin water use averaged 4.4 M acre-feet between 2000 and 2015. The highest use among these years was 4.9 M acre-feet.
The lower basin states, with greater population and higher evapotranspiration, have a more difficult time managing water demands within the limitations of the compact. For the last several years, annual releases from Lake Mead have averaged about 9 M acre-feet to meet lower basin water demands. Lake Mead also loses about 1.2 M acre-feet in evaporative and system losses, so the total annual outflow from Lake Mead has been about 10.2 M acre-feet.
The imbalance between Lake Mead’s recent inflows and outflows is called the “structural deficit.” This is the amount by which the lower basin states and Mexico must reduce their demands in order to reach a more sustainable withdrawal rate from Lake Mead.
Lake Powell stores water that flows from the upper Colorado River basin and is used to buffer declines in Lake Mead. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell, also generates 5 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually. The Western Area Power Administration distributes this electricity to Colorado and six other states at cost-effective rates. The total value of the electricity produced is about $120 million annually. A small, but important, portion of the annual power revenue is used to fund salinity control programs that help pay for irrigation infrastructure upgrades on the western slope, and provide funding for the Colorado River and San Juan River endangered species recovery programs.
In 1970, formal “Operating Criteria” were agreed upon by the seven states and the Bureau of Reclamation to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the upper and lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Operating Criteria allow the secretary of the interior to make releases from Lake Powell to raise the water level in Lake Mead so that the stored volume of the two reservoirs is roughly equal. The upshot is that Lake Powell will decline when Lake Mead declines, even if ample flow is entering Lake Powell from the upper basin states.
Since 2000, the two reservoirs have been drawn down to approximately half of their capacity to meet lower basin demands. The current water level of Lake Mead (1,083 feet above sea level) is the lowest since the reservoir started filling in 1935 (ref http://lakemead.water-data.com). It is currently just above the “Tier 1 Shortage level” of 1,075 feet, which is the point where water allocations to Arizona and Nevada are automatically reduced. These reductions become increasingly severe at Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels.
The current level of Lake Powell is about 3,625 feet above sea level. The concern for the upper basin states is that if the structural deficit continues and/or a drought returns, Lake Powell could be lowered to a level below 3,490 feet, which is the minimum level needed to generate electricity.
The lower basin states and Mexico have implemented conservation measures that have saved about 1.2 M acre-feet in Lake Mead since 2014. This has resulted in the lake level being 14 feet higher than it would have been otherwise.
For Colorado and the other upper basin states, the challenge isn’t complying with the usage limit spelled out in the 1922 compact. Instead, it is simply how to deal with snowpack and runoff shortages over a multi-year period. Since many Front Range cities and irrigation districts rely on Colorado River basin water via trans-mountain diversions, runoff shortages on the western slope also directly affect eastern slope residents and farmers. And of course, multiple years of drought in the upper basin could result in lowering of Lake Powell to the power pool level simply because of inadequate runoff. When the 2002-2003 drought began, Lake Powell was full. Today it is about 58 percent of its capacity.
In 2015, a program was created to determine whether voluntary, compensated reductions in consumptive use in the upper basin states could be a useful tool to put water into Lake Powell and minimize lake-level declines during drought periods. The System Conservation Pilot Program is funded by southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, Central Arizona Project, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and NGOs. About $4.5 M has been spent on the program through 2017 and approximately 22,000 acre-feet of consumptive use water has been conserved through such fallow and deficit irrigation, alternative cropping and a municipal water savings program. The program is being continued in 2018.
The Colorado River Risk Study, commissioned by the Colorado River District and other West Slope parties, forecasts that if another drought like 2002-04 recurs,Lake Powell, now about half full rather than full as it was then, could fall below power generation levels or be drained unless Drought Contingency Plans (DCP) can be put in place.
Should the worst happen, Colorado and its sister Upper Division states (Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) that are party to the Colorado River Compact of 1922 would be hard pressed to meet compact obligations to the Lower Division states (California, Nevada and Arizona).
The Risk Study is now in Phase II, which is a technical process to learn if federal and state Colorado River computer models can be used conjunctively to better predict what could happen in the state of Colorado. Other partners in the study are the four West Slope Basin Roundtables (Colorado Basin, Gunnison, Yampa-White and South- west) and the Southwestern Water Conservation District– with assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
At its quarterly meeting on Oct. 17, the Colorado River District Board received an update on the work. John Carron of Hydros Consulting, the study contractor, said the takeaways from the study so far are:
• Should a drought on the order of 2002-04 recur with Lake Powell at its current half-full level, hydroelectric power generation is jeopardized;
• Hydrology, demands and future development levels matter — the higher the consumptive use in the Upper Division states, the higher the risk to existing users;
• The most successful Drought Contingency Planning requires joint participation by both Upper and Lower Division states;
• Drought Contingency Planning is essential;re-operations of reservoirs, such as Flaming Gorge, to move water down to Powell reduces the risk, but in more severe droughts (e.g., 1988-1993 and 2001-2005),demand management (reduced water use) would be necessary in addition to any
• Some of the volumes of demand management that the model is forecasting are large and may not be feasible, thus the need to consider the trade-offs and alternative strategies;
• Demand management combined with a water bank could limit the impact by spreading conservation over many years and providing greater control over conserved water — a must- have condition.
The four West Slope Basin Roundtables called for the Risk Study at a joint meeting held in December 2014 in order for the West Slope to better under- stand the risks to current water users of future water development and how development, basin by basin, might look against the risk. As Colorado River water is also used on the Front Range of Colorado, drought risk is important to Front Range Roundtables and their future development, but they opted not to participate in the study.
How we got here
Even though there had been some good snow years in the years 2000- 2013, it was clear that dry conditions and overuse of the Colorado River were driving down reservoir levels at Lakes Powell and Mead.
In July 2013, then U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asked the seven Colorado River basin states if they were prepared to deal with a continuation of these conditions. The answer was no, and the challenge was for the basin states to develop their own DCPs or have the work done for them.
The Upper Division states and the Lower Division states each started work on DCPs for their regions.
Against this backdrop, the four West Slope Basin Roundtables commissioned the Risk Study. In the meantime, Colorado’s Water Plan, released in 2015, calls for actions that will minimize the risk of compact curtailment, embodied in Point 4 of the Seven Point Framework of the plan.
The Upper Basin DCP
The Upper Basin States have a three-pronged DCP, that 1) entails moving water stored in Flaming Gorge, Aspinall and Navajo Reservoirs to Lake Powell as the first line of defense against critical Powell elevations being breached, and modifying releases from Powell to Mead; 2) institutes demand management (reduction of use); and 3) augments river flows through cloud seeding and phreatophyte (primarily tamarisk) reduction.
An agreement between the four Upper Division states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is in the works on how to re-operate the reservoirs. The demand management piece will be controversial among the states and within each state; details are still to be worked out. One policy contention in Colorado is that municipal water users, including those on the Front Range, share the burden of reduced use – and that the reduced uses not all fall on West Slope agriculture.
Demand management in the Upper Basin would be the last action to implement in the “worst of the worst droughts,” General Manager Eric Kuhn said. “The goal is to limit it to that.”
General Counsel Peter Fleming said a Colorado River District policy issue would be implementing demand management at the same time as new and increasing water uses are being developed in the River District, the state of Colorado and throughout the Upper Basin.
Kuhn said that for Colorado, the Seven Point Framework in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan addresses that — calling for any new transmountain diversion to not increase the risk of curtailment, because of Compact or Lake Powell low levels, on current water users.
“It is a major milestone that the state has adopted that in its plan,” Kuhn said. “This is an issue for the Front Range as well. Existing users do not want to see the risk to their projects increase due to new diversions.”
The Lower Basin DCP
The overall goal of DCP in the Lower Division states is to erase the so-called “structural deficit” that over time has showed those three states depleting about 1.2 million acre feet (maf) annually more than their compact entitlement of 7.5 maf, due to use and evaporation. A section of the 2007 Interim Guidelines that pertains to the three states calls for reduction of water use equal to about half of the structural deficit once Lake Meads falls below certain thresholds. Current Drought Contingency Planning specifies further cutbacks would achieve the 1.2 maf goal.
The Lower Division states are nearing finalizing their DCP. As Mother Nature would have it, big rains in California helped to reduce depletions in the Low- er Basin to 6.6 maf this past water year.
Click here to read the summary. Here’s an excerpt:
Fallowing test project allocated CRD funds
In 2017, the Grand Valley Water Users Associa on (GVWUA) conducted a temporary agricultural fallowing program to save 3,200 acre feet of conserved consumptove use normally applied to crops. It was an experiment in water banking — to see how a program to send saved water to bolster Lake Powell might work.
GVWUA is extending the program to the 2018 growing season and received a $50,000 contribu on from the Colorado River District Board of Directors toward the program’s $1 million budget.
Mark Harris, GVWUA General Manager, told the Board that a second year is needed to con nue learning the lessons of fallowing and to broaden the knowledge of it among water users who are watching how this program might work for them.
Harris said that the Drought Contingency Plans (DCP) being developed by the Upper Division states and the Lower Division states to address low levels at Lakes Powell and Mead have put a “clearer focus” on demand management, which means reduced use by agricultural and municipal water users.
“The implications for the Colorado River District, its cons tuents and the GVWUA is that they will be majorly impacted” if demand management becomes necessary, Harris said. “We don’t need to do this for the Lower Basin’s benefit, we need to do this for our own benefit.”
Harris said that if West Slope interests don’t try to come up with a plan for how demand management might work, “others will be making those plans for us.” He said it was important to figure out how irrigators could par cipate in such a plan “in a way that does not ravage agriculture and does not ravage the West Slope.”
He said the 2018 program will keep the conversa ons about these issues moving forward and will advance the learning in economics, agronomics and the political implications.
In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives
President Hoover at the signing of the Colorado River Compact.
Nearly the full length of Lake Powell on the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona is visible in this photograph shot by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, on Sept. 6, 2016. The view is toward the southwest. Water flow is from the lower right toward the top. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)
Glen Canyon Dam June 2013 — Photo / Brad Udall
Glen Canyon Dam
Glen Canyon Dam discharge via Tom Smart
From the Getches-Wilkinson Center (Lawrence J. MacDonnell and Anne J. Castle). Click through and read the whole paper. Here’s an excerpt:
To achieve the intended benefit to the Colorado River System, the Upper Basin, and the State of Colorado in particular, the Compact security water must actually make its way to Lake Powell. That is, the water must be moved from its existing place of use or storage and reach Lake Powell when necessary without being diminished by other water users. Absent relatively specialized circumstances, most conserved consumptive use water will require some form of administrative “shepherding” to reach the state line and Lake Powell. Water shepherding here refers to the delivery of a specified volume of conserved consumptive use water from its original place of storage or use to a downstream location without diminishment by other users.
A recent report on Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) addresses the issue of Colorado River Compact security and concludes that the ability to shepherd conserved or changed water to Lake Powell is essential. This report reflects the consensus opinion of many knowledgeable water users in Colorado. But existing water law in the Upper Basin states, including in Colorado, presents challenges for protecting Compact security water from diversion and use by others.
This paper explains the basis for the concern about storage levels in Lake Powell and, focusing on Colorado, discusses some of the legal and policy issues involved with moving Compact security water to the reservoir. It offers recommendations for revisions to Colorado law. It considers interstate issues and the management of Compact security water once it reaches Lake Powell. The Technical Appendix provides a more comprehensive discussion of the legal and policy issues.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Lori Kuczmanski):
UNITED STATES AND MEXICO CONCLUDE COLORADO RIVER AGREEMENT
Officials with the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, today announced the conclusion of a new Colorado River agreement, Minute 323, “Extension of Cooperative Measures and Adoption of a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan in the Colorado River Basin.” Commission officials signed the Minute on September 21 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and both governments approved it on September 27. The Minute’s entry into force was announced during a ceremony held at the Water Education Foundation’s Colorado River Symposium in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Minute follows more than two years of negotiations among federal and state authorities from both countries, taking into consideration recommendations from the works groups, which included water users, scientists, academics, and nongovernmental organizations.
The agreement, which will remain in effect through 2026, extends or replaces key elements of Minute 319, a previous agreement that expires at the end of 2017. Minute 323 contains the following provisions:
Allows Mexico to defer delivery of a portion of its Colorado River allotment in the event of potential emergencies, such as earthquakes, or as a result of water conservation projects in Mexico. This water, known as Mexico’s Water Reserve, will be available for subsequent delivery to Mexico as determined through its planning processes. This gives Mexico greater flexibility in how it manages its Colorado River allotment while also boosting Lake Mead elevation to the benefit of all users.
Provides additional quantities of Colorado River water to Mexico during certain high elevation reservoir conditions at Lake Mead when additional water is available to users in the United States, providing benefits to both countries.
Establishes proactive basin operations during certain low elevation reservoir conditions at Lake Mead by applying water delivery reductions in order to deter more severe reductions in the future, giving certainty in both countries’ operations when these conditions occur.
Establishes a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan so that, should a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan be put into effect in the United States, then Mexico will also undertake water savings in parity with U.S. savings. These savings will be recoverable when reservoir conditions improve.
Implements measures to address salinity impacts stemming from the joint cooperative actions, in conformance with the provisions of Minute 242, entitled, “Permanent and Definitive Solution to the International Problem of the Salinity of the Colorado River,” dated August 30, 1973.
Identifies measures to address daily flow variability in Colorado River water deliveries to Mexico.
Through a cooperative effort among the Governments of the United State and Mexico and nongovernmental organizations, provides water for the environment and funding for environmental monitoring and habitat restoration.
Provides greater U.S. investment in water infrastructure and environmental projects in Mexico than Minute 319 in order to modernize and improve Irrigation District 014 in the Mexicali Valley in areas that wish to participate. This will generate additional volumes of water that will be shared between both countries and the environment, in accordance with the Minute’s provisions.
Notes the ongoing efforts of the binational All-American Canal Turnout Project Work Group to examine resources associated with a potential binational connection between the All-American Canal in the United States and Mexico’s Colorado River Tijuana Aqueduct Pump Station PB 0.
“Minute 323 is the result of many rounds of technical discussions involving a broad group of stakeholders from both countries. This agreement puts us on a path of cooperation rather than conflict as we work with Mexico to address the Colorado River Basin’s many challenges,” said U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina of the International Boundary and Water Commission.
Mexican Commissioner Roberto Salmon said, “This agreement provides certainty for water operations in both countries and mainly establishes a planning tool that allows Mexico to define the most suitable actions for managing its Colorado River waters allotted by the 1944 Water Treaty.”
Joining the Commissioners at the ceremony were David Bernhardt, United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior; Thomas Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; Hillary Quam, Border Affairs Coordinator, U.S. Department of State Office of Mexican Affairs; and, from Mexico, Director General for North America Mauricio Ibarra of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
The International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, is responsible for applying the boundary and water treaties between the two countries. Under the 1944 Water Treaty, Mexico is allotted 1.5 million acre-feet (1850 million cubic meters) per year of water from the Colorado River
Minute 323 Agreement boosts water security for Colorado River water users, continues Delta restoration
(September 27, 2017) – Today, policymakers, water agencies, and conservation organizations from the United States and Mexico gathered to confirm the signing of Minute 323, an addendum to the 1944 Water Treaty between the United States and Mexico. The successful negotiation and signing of this agreement demonstrates the power of collaboration and cooperation between the United States and Mexico governments, and supported by the Raise the River coalition of non-profit organizations, to achieve progress on water security for Colorado River water users.
Raise the River Coalition’s public statement of support for Minute 323:
We applaud the leadership and vision of water managers and state and federal officials in United States and Mexico in adopting the Minute 323 Agreement to provide for a more secure water future for all Colorado River water users, and support continued restoration of the Colorado River Delta.
This new binational water sharing agreement shows the best of what collaboration can do, improving the reliability of the Colorado River water supply for everyone who uses it”. –Jennifer Pitt, Raise the River spokesperson and Colorado River Project Director, National Audubon Society
Officially titled “Extension of Cooperative Measures and Adoption of a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan in the Colorado River Basin”, Minute 323 commits the United States and Mexico to work together to address potential Colorado River water shortages and to meet new water conservation and storage objectives. It represents the joint efforts of local, state, and the federal governments of both countries to set a course for a more secure water future for the more than 36 million people who rely on the Colorado River in the United States and Mexico.
“This is an exciting day for both countries,” said Osvel Hinojosa, Water and Wetlands Program Director at Pronatura Noroeste, a Mexican non-profit conservation organization. “Especially for those of us who have worked in the delta for decades.”
The Colorado River is one of the most critical sources of water in the West, supplying water to 36 million people and 5.5 million acres of agricultural land in seven states in the U.S. and two states in Mexico. More than 17 years of drought have diminished the reliability of the Colorado River water supply, putting an enormous population and economy at risk of disruptive water shortages. Proactive investments in water conservation, paired with agreements among Colorado River water users about how to share when the water supply is limited, will create the certainty needed to ensure that the region’s economies continue to thrive.
As the Colorado River is shared by both the United States and Mexico, it is subject to various binational agreements extending back to the 1944 Water Treaty for the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande.
The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and its Mexican counterpart (CILA) are the U.S. and Mexican federal agencies that negotiate and implement binational water treaties and water allocations. In 2012, the IBWC and CILA successfully negotiated Minute 319, an agreement that helped the two countries better implement the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty (these types of supplementary treaties agreements are referred to as ‘Minutes’). The result of this extraordinary binational collaboration, Minute 319 provided multiple benefits for water users on both sides of the border. It broadly provided for the United States and Mexico to share surpluses in times of plenty and reductions in times of drought and provided for water flows for the environment. The agreement also served to recognize the Colorado River Delta as a place of ecological significance for both countries.
Minute 319 concludes on December 31, 2017. Its successor agreement, Minute 323, promotes a more secure water future while scaling up ongoing environmental restoration projects in the Delta.
Specifically, Minute 323:
Provides for Mexico to continue to store its water in Lake Mead, helping to keep reservoir levels high enough to avoid triggering dramatic cuts to Colorado River water users.
Includes an agreement between both the United States and Mexico for voluntary water cutbacks in times of droughts that further staves off triggering a shortage declaration. Should a shortage be declared, these new commitments will slow progress towards even larger water shortages.
Commits US water managers to invest $31.5M in water efficiency projects in Mexico that will result in savings of more than 200,000 acre-feet of water. In return, the U.S. entities will receive a one-time water exchange, and over the long term, Mexico will benefit by generating additional water from these conservation programs and improved infrastructure.
Obliges both the United States and Mexico to each provide water and funding for continued habitat restoration and scientific monitoring in the Colorado River Delta through 2026, with Raise the River contributing matching amounts.
“We have worked closely with the governments of Mexico and the United States to demonstrate the Colorado River Delta’s tremendous resilience,” states Hinojosa. “Through a combination of limited water deliveries and on-the-ground work to restore natural habitat, native vegetation is sustaining a great diversity of life in these sites and there has been a renewal of the community relationships and engagement that promote long-term stewardship of the river.”
Raise the River has been a leading advocate of – and active participant in – the negotiation and drafting of Minute 323 to support continued cooperative Colorado River management between Mexico and the United States.
“Minute 323 recommits the United States and Mexico in their successful partnership with NGOs to restore the Colorado River in its long-desiccated delta; this is a big win for people and for nature,” says Pitt.
Raise the River’s successful habitat restoration under Minute 319 helped lay the foundation for Minute 323. Between 2013 and 2017 Raise the River provided active management of restoration sites, including base flows – smaller, periodic releases of water – to restore over 1,000 acres of riparian habitat along the river’s main channel, where more than 230,000 native cottonwoods and willow trees were planted. Raise the River was also an active participant in the scientific monitoring of the results of these environmental water flows.
In addition to these restoration results, Raise the River established a water trust in Mexico that permanently acquired water rights from voluntary sellers in the Mexicali Valley to support their commitments. This was funded by raising more than $10M for restoration and water acquisition from US and Mexico foundations, corporations, federal agencies, and individuals.
Raise the River engaged over 9,800 local residents, school children, and volunteers from around the world in on-site restoration work and environmental education programs, as well as created more than 140 jobs in 2016 alone, related to completing the restoration work.
“Minute 323 represents a global model for managing shared watersheds in response to declining water supplies or long-term drought,” explains Pitt. “It also sets a standard of international cooperative management for countries working together to achieve mutually desired outcomes both for water users and for the environment.”
Raise the River’s primary goal is to bring water and life back to the Colorado River Delta, and in doing so, create a model for future trans-national river restoration efforts throughout the world. In meeting our goal, we will rebuild the habitats that support local communities and wildlife.
Officials from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday signed a new water pact that brings Mexico in as a full partner on the Colorado River and could boost Lake Mead.
The historic agreement, known as Minute 323 to the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944, spells out how much Mexico would have to reduce its river use in the event of a shortage on the Colorado and how much extra water the nation would get in a surplus.
It also opens the door to more cross-border cooperation on water efficiency projects — including some paid for by the Southern Nevada Water Authority — that could help slow the declining water level in Lake Mead.
To that end, Mexico has agreed to a series of voluntary reductions in its Colorado River use to prop up the reservoir east of Las Vegas and stave off more severe mandatory cuts.
Nevada, Arizona and California have agreed in principle to similar voluntary cuts as part of a so-called Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Water managers hope the three states will finalize that plan sometime next year.
The treaty amendment was signed by representatives from the International Boundary and Water Commission of the United States and Mexico during a Sept. 21 meeting in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It took effect Wednesday, after the governments of the two countries approved it.
The treaty amendment also sets aside some river water and funding to support environmental restoration work south of the border, where the Colorado River Delta has been left dry by upstream diversions to farms and cities in the U.S. and Mexico. Aside from a few isolated floods, the river stopped emptying into the Gulf of California in the 1960s with the construction of Glen Canyon Dam and the creation of Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.
The new agreement extends and expands upon a 2012 deal between the two countries that allowed Mexico to store some of its unused river water in Lake Mead. That pact, known as Minute 319, was due to expire at the end of the year.
Under Minute 323, the water authority, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and water agencies in Arizona and California will provide up to $31.5 million for water efficiency improvements in Mexico through 2026. In return, the contributing agencies would share as much as 229,100 acre-feet of Colorado River water, which is almost enough to supply the entire Las Vegas Valley for one year.
Mexico is expected to use the money to line canals, repair pipes, curb runoff from farm fields and make other water-saving improvements, mostly to its thirsty agricultural sector.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority will get 27,275 acre-feet of water for its initial $3.75 million investment south of the border.
If additional projects are identified after the first round of work in Mexico is done, the authority would chip in up to $3.75 million more in exchange for another 27,275 acre-feet from the river.
One acre-foot of water will supply two average valley homes for just over a year. About 90 percent of the valley’s water supply comes from the Colorado by way of Lake Mead.
The signing of the agreement in Santa Fe, N.M., was led by the International Boundary and Water Commission. The agency is responsible for overseeing water treaties between the United States and Mexico and is composed of representatives from both countries…
Several water agencies in California, Nevada and Arizona have anticipated the agreement for weeks and were optimistic the conservation efforts aimed at Mexico would ultimately lead to more secure water supplies for residents and farmers who rely on Lake Mead and the Colorado River.
Some of the conservation efforts in Mexico funded by the United States would include relining leaky canals, improving water pump systems and using more advanced runoff capture systems that allow water to be reclaimed and stored, according to officials familiar with the agreement.
Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger, who attended the signing in New Mexico, said in a statement that the agreement was critical for long-term sustainability…
Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said that the river is already close to a critical shortage and that the agreement helps all parties navigate the effects of climate change on the river’s future.
The commission said officials from the two nations signed the agreement in a ceremony in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Wednesday. Under the deal, the U.S. government and Southwestern water users will invest up to $31.5 million in water delivery systems and farm efficiency upgrades south of the border.
In exchange, Mexico will parcel out a portion of its river allotment to various U.S. water agencies over nine years and will reduce the risk of shortages for all of the Southwest by storing some of its water in Lake Mead near Las Vegas.
“This agreement puts us on a path of cooperation rather than conflict as we work with Mexico to address the Colorado River Basin’s many challenges,” U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina said in a statement.
After the deal’s signing, he added that it’s “not necessarily the complete fix,” given the region’s long-term drought, but is a “monumental achievement in collaboration.”
Water certainty during drought
The deal “provides certainty for water operations in both countries,” Mexican Commissioner Roberto Salmon said, and allows Mexico to better plan its water use.
A 2007 rule adopted by the states allows the federal government to restrict some of Arizona’s water whenever Lake Mead’s elevation drops below 1,075 feet above sea level to start a year.
That reservoir had threatened to drop that low before a healthy snowfall in the Rocky Mountains last winter raised levels, but officials project there’s still about a 1-in-3 chance it could happen by 2019.
Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Bob Muir/Armando Acuña):
METROPOLITAN GENERAL MANAGER’S STATEMENT REGARDING BINATIONAL AGREEMENT ON COLORADO RIVER DELIVERIES, STORAGE
Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issued the following statement regarding the conclusion of Minute 323, the new binational water agreement between the United States and Mexico addressing Mexico’s Colorado River deliveries and storage through 2026:
“Today’s milestone continues the spirit of cooperation and collaboration forged among users of the Colorado River in both the United States and Mexico. This agreement carries on and augments the progress made under Minute 319 and recognizes that management of the Colorado River is most effective when the two countries jointly manage the river’s available resources.
“Under the measures announced today, Metropolitan and the Imperial Irrigation District once again will join with agencies in Arizona and Nevada to provide critical funding for conservation projects in Mexico that will benefit both countries for the next decade. In exchange, the funding agencies will receive a portion of the water conserved that will be stored in Lake Mead to help meet future water supply needs, increase lake levels and help address long-term drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin.”
With an eye to long-term, binational cooperation and to managing a more stable Colorado River System, representatives of the United States, Mexico and the Colorado River Basin States of the U.S. on Wednesday celebrated the “entry into force” of an agreement deemed essential to the System’s future.
The American signing, conducted at an “entry into force” ceremony in Santa Fe, N.M., applies the final flourish to the intensely negotiated agreement known as “Minute 323.”
“The State of Arizona appreciates the efforts of the United States and Mexico to continue binational cooperation on long-term water management,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Buschatzke participated in the Santa Fe ceremony and played a central role in the portions of the complex negotiations that were conducted among the U.S. Lower Basin participant-states.
“This agreement provides substantial benefits to Arizona, particularly regarding opportunities for augmenting existing water supplies, which is a top priority for Governor Ducey,” he said.
“In addition to the diligent efforts of the Commissioners, we’d also like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of all the parties involved.”
The implications of the agreement for helping stabilize and augment Arizona’s water supplies are significant.
Officially, Minute 323 is the “Extension of Cooperative Measures and Adoption of a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan in the Colorado River Basin.” It is an implementing agreement for the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty on Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande.
On the U.S. side, Minute 323 was negotiated among representatives of the U.S. International Boundary and Waters Commission (IBWC), the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and the seven Colorado River Basin States, including Arizona, which was represented by Director Buschatzke.
The Minute 323 entry establishes a program of joint cooperative actions to improve Colorado River water management through 2026.
Like Minute 319, the new Minute 323 provides for the U.S. and Mexico to share proportionately in Lower Basin shortage and surplus, and allows Mexico to create water savings in the Colorado River System in the U.S.
Also like Minute 319, the updated agreement opens up opportunities for U.S. water users to fund conservation programs in Mexico, which in turn create “Intentionally Created Surplus,” or ICS, in Lake Mead, which benefits all of Lake Mead’s 35-million-plus water users in the Southwest.
The new agreement’s most important features, many of which are carried over from Minute 319, include:
Allowing Mexico to defer delivery of a portion of its Colorado River allotment in the event of potential emergencies, such as earthquakes, or as a result of water conservation projects in Mexico.
This gives Mexico greater flexibility in how it manages its Colorado River allotment while also boosting Lake Mead elevation to the benefit of all users.
Providing additional Colorado River water to Mexico during certain high elevation reservoir conditions at Lake Mead when additional water is available to users in the United States.
Establishing a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan so that, should a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan be put into effect in the United States, Mexico will also undertake water savings in parity with U.S. savings. The Minute stipulates that the savings will be recoverable when reservoir conditions improve.
Providing for U.S. investment in water infrastructure and environmental projects in Mexico – investments that provide initial water benefits to the U.S. agencies while generating water efficiencies for Mexico in the long term.
New features that are unique to Minute 323 include the extension to 2026; creation of the Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan; measures addressing salinity; measures addressing daily flow variability; and, providing water for the environment and funding for environmental monitoring and habitat restoration.
Speaking on behalf of the Basin States, Director Buschatzke acknowledged the “trust and friendship we built as part of the process” during the signing ceremony in Santa Fe.
“That same spirit of cooperation and collaboration served us well in the negotiations that led to Minute 319 and now in Minute 323.”
Throughout much of the long negotiations, which straddled two U.S. presidential administrations, the Treaty’s update was known as “Minute 32x.” The execution and implementation of Minute 32x required a series of domestic agreements among the U.S., the IBWC, Reclamation, the Basin States, and U.S. water users.
Nowhere in the U.S. were those negotiations more challenging than in Arizona, which – unique among the Basin States – required Director Buschatzke to seek the approval of the Arizona Legislature before he could agree to “forbear” portions of the State’s Colorado River allotment.
The agreement allows Arizona water users to join users in California and Nevada in benefitting from the intentionally created surpluses generating from the water-savings projects the states fund in Mexico.
On March 2, 2017, Governor Ducey signed House Joint Resolution 2002, authorizing the director of Water Resources to execute the forbearance agreement on the assumption it met certain conditions and that the final form of Minute 32x – now, Minute 323 – would not harm Arizona water users.
In a letter to Arizona legislative leaders, the Director noted the establishment of a Binational Desalination Work Group, which will investigate desalination opportunities in the Sea of Cortez.
Minute 323 creates opportunities to augment Arizona water supplies, including a binational desalination plant near the Sea of Cortez.
“As you are aware,” wrote Buschatzke, “a binational desalination facility in the Sea of Cortez could be a critical component in Arizona’s long-term future water supplies.”
The following statement is from Ted Kowalski, director of the Colorado River initiative at the Walton Family Foundation, in support of the U.S.-Mexico Colorado River agreement announced today:
“This agreement is a home run for the long-term health of the Colorado River basin, the security of water for the future and the river environment in the United States and Mexico. The agreement also includes important incentives that encourage lower basin states to complete a drought contingency plan.”
The Walton Family Foundation joined several other foundations in releasing a letter today pledging support for the implementation of the agreement. Ted Kowalski:
“The philanthropic and nonprofit communities are eager to do their share to make sure the agreement is implemented and successful.”
The agreement to be signed Wednesday calls for the U.S. to invest $31.5 million in conservation improvements in Mexico’s water infrastructure to reduce losses to leaks and other problems, according to officials of U.S. water districts who have seen summaries of the agreement.
The water that the improvements save would be shared by users in both nations and by environmental restoration projects
The deal also calls on Mexico to develop specific plans for reducing consumption if the river runs too low to supply everyone’s needs, said Bill Hasencamp of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies water to about 19 million people in and around Los Angeles.
Major river consumers in the U.S. would be required to agree on their own shortage plan before Mexico produces one, he said.
The deal will extend a previous agreement that both countries would share the burden of water supply cutbacks if the river runs low, Hasencamp said.
The International Boundary and Water Commission, which has members from both countries and oversees U.S.-Mexico treaties on borders and rivers, declined to release a copy of the agreement before Wednesday’s signing ceremony in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Officials with the Mexican foreign ministry said in an email Tuesday they had no immediate comment, but U.S. officials who have been briefed on the details said the deal will help both sides.
“It’s good news for both nations, for water users in the U.S. and Mexico,” said Chuck Collum of the Central Arizona Project, another Colorado River user that will help fund the infrastructure improvements in Mexico.
The agreement provides more certainty in how the two countries will deal with the risk of a shortage and recognizes the danger the river faces, he said.
“It’s an acknowledgement that the U.S. and Mexico both share risk due to a hotter and drier future,” Collum said.
Sitting in an overcrowded hotel ballroom in Santa Fe, New Mexico, late yesterday afternoon, I was privileged to see that happen. In the midst of bellicose rhetoric about border walls and NAFTA trade battles, of “rapists” and “bad hombres”, representatives of the two nations’ border and water management community signed the final paperwork for the entry into force of a sweeping new Colorado River agreement.
The deal extends the core terms of “Minute 319”, a landmark agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that enabled a rich new suite of collaborative measures to managing the shared river – Mexican storage of water in U.S. reservoirs, shared surpluses and shortages, opportunities for U.S. water agencies to collaborate with their Mexican counterparts on conservation measures and a shared effort to restore water to the Colorado River Delta environment.
Two years of work by Obama administration folks and their Mexican counterparts had led to an near-agreement they came to call “Minute 32x” because of the quirks of the numbering system, but it didn’t quite get over the finish line before the change of administrations.
Yesterday, despite the fears of many (including myself), we saw the agreement survive, as Petersen-Perlman put it, “conflict … being waged over other issues.” Here was the Trump administration’s new Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, standing at the podium before an international audience praising his predecessor, Obama administration Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor, who stood quietly leaning against the back wall.
Connor and Estevan López, his Commissioner of Reclamation during the final years of the Obama administration, stood together. They two of them had led a determined push in the months after the election to try to get the deal done before the new administration took office, amid fears that a souring U.S.-Mexico relationship might make a Colorado River agreement impossible.
Eric Kuhn prepared for his final Colorado River District Seminar, “Points of No Return,” by riding his bike east to west across the Colorado National Monument the day before. He has announced his retirement from the district and I’m sure he’ll make good use of the time on his road bike, mountain bike, and kayak. He undoubtedly has outdoor interests that I don’t know about. He will be missed by those of us that have learned to listen to his wise counsel about the hardest working river in the world, the Colorado River.
He assured folks in the room, on Twitter and live on Facebook that the seminar was not his last, just his last as the GM of the district he worked at for 34 years. In his early retirement he is authoring a book on Colorado River hydrology that he hopes will “de-nerdify” the subject and appeal to a wide audience. The water nerds in the room all hoped to snag a copy as soon as is it avaiable.
He explained the politics and history of the River. “100 years ago the Colorado River was a beast,” he said, adding, “and we were in a wet time but already seeing shortages.” The beast would unleash huge floods in the Lower Basin, submerging towns and farms and destroying headworks and other facilities. Late in the irrigation season the river often failed to deliver water to finish crops.
Coloradans, led by Delph Carpenter, realized the danger to development of water in Colorado if prior appropriation prevailed on the Colorado River. The Lower Basin states of Arizona and California were first in time and the Upper Basin states were at risk of not being able to develop the farms, cities, and industry at a fast enough pace. The result was the Colorado River Compact which allocated water equally to the Upper Basin and Lower Basin based on the hydrology at Lee Ferry.
The Lower Basin needed storage to manage the river and the Upper Basin needed time. Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, and Lake Mead would fulfill the need for flood control, hydropower, and late-season irrigation water. Lake Powell was slated to store the Upper Basin water for downstream deliveries.
A hundred years later:
During his talk Eric stated that the West Slope, “Should not support and more transmountain diversions,” because that would put, “plans at risk.”
While not being a “not one more drop” line in the sand it still is a pretty strong statement. Kuhn cited protection of West Slope agriculture, the power pool at Lake Powell, and the Upper Basin delivery requirements under the “Law of the River,” the recreation industry, water quality, and the environment, as reasons.
“River governance must be as flexible to meet a wide range of future possibilities”, he said.
He believes that we need to reduce consumptive use on the river. He added that, the Lower Basin will have to make the lion’s share and they are doing that. Then he backed it up with the numbers:
Mr. Kuhn said that, “If we had a 1950s drought we would probably drain Lake Powell.”
Eric was preceded on the program Bill Hasencamp from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He said that 1 in 17 Americans get their water from the district (and their members), 19 million folks all told.
“I am from the Lower Basin and we’re about as different as can be,” he said,
Metropolitan’s water supplies come from the Colorado River, Northern California, and locally through conservation and reuse:
California has an active water market, he said, but there is great variability in price:
Demand for water is low this year due to huge winter snowpack:
“The Salton Sea will a dramatic effect on how water is managed going forward,” said Hasencamp. The water body, formed when the Colorado River destroyed an irrigation headworks during construction and has become important habitat for birds displaced by San Diego’s growth. Now it is drying up due to the lack of irrigation return flows and has become a health hazard for residents nearby.
Hasencamp stressed the importance of solving California’s Bay Delta problem. The proposed project will cost $17 billion and firm up the water supply from Northern California:
Hasencamp closed by quoting Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
Dave Kanzer from the Colorado River District moderated a panel about irrigation efficiency. The goal is to avoid unexpected consequences such as increased salinity or less water in the streams due to lower return flows.
Panel member Bill Trampe said that society has to tell irrigators what is required. The return flows from irrigation provide habitat for wildlife and after a 150 years or so that habitat is part of the fabric of the watershed. Absent direction from society ranchers and farmers will go where the money is because the business is very tough.
There was a long session about challenges and successes in Grand County with Lurline Curran, Paul Bruchez, and Mely Whiting. The county at the headwaters of the Colorado River sees 60% of its water exported to the East Slope by Denver Water and Northern Water. The two water agencies are working on projects to firm up supplies and the result could be that more headwaters flows could move east.
One project will rebuild the channel of the Fraser River to better fit the lower flows to keep river temperatures colder. Rocks are being placed to create pools for trout.
Another project, in concert with Northern’s Windy Gap Firming project will create a new natural channel around the reservoir to take it off-channel. The hope is that there will be greater scouring of the Colorado River below the reservoir to support stonefly populations that have been severely impacted.
At lunch Jack Schmidt explained his research into the Glen Canyon Institute’s proposal to drain Lake Powell to dead pool and store the water in Lake Mead. He said that their numbers with respect to evaporation and seepage may not be supported by the studies he has found. He confirmed that under a changed hydrology due to climate change that the option of re-drilling the original bypass tunnels around Glen Canyon Dam to completely drain Lake Powell might work to restore the Grand Canyon.
Afternoon sessions included a panel with Heather Hansman and Eric Kuhn with their thoughts on telling water stories and concluded with a panel of members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and its new Director, Becky Mitchell.
The Colorado River District staff knocked it out of the park again this year. Thanks again.
Take a trip through the Tweets from the conference. The hash tag was #CRDseminar. Be sure to click on the “Latest” button at the top of the page, scroll down to the bottom and read upward from oldest to newest Tweets.